Before I headed east in December to wrap up my affairs, I expressed an interest in being an advocate for Windward poultry affairs upon my return. The idea was met with enthusiasm so when I returned in March I was looking forward to improving the chickens' situation.
The first goal was to provide better nesting boxes. This would increase the number of eggs laid and would decrease predation of eggs being laid on the ground. My second goal was to upgrade their housing situation and improve security.
At the time, the chicken space was a covered, open bay with access to the run on the east side and access to the rabbit house on the west side via a closeable door and a small hatch. At night they were sleeping on the flat topped rabbit cages, the food coolers and one of the support boards on the entry wall.
I returned to Windward March 8, and got back into the flow the first week or so. There were some logistic issues to work out with the rabbit group before I could start construction so the process was delayed somewhat.
At the time, we had 10 to 12 hens and two roosters and were getting up to 9 eggs a day. During that time we had been trying to get the Silkies to brood 4 eggs but a predator stole two of the eggs and the hen abandoned the other two she was brooding.
On March 28 Lindsay went to feed the chickens and noticed there were a lot less chickens and lots of feathers on the ground. She came to the kitchen and asked if I noticed anything.
We investigated and found the back fence torn up and lots of feathers on the ground here and there. The Rhodie rooster was missing along with a number of hens. We had 6 hens and the Easter Egger rooster left. Lindsay also saw a bedraggled Buff Orpington hen wandering around the property.
We moved the chickens to a more secure situation in vermidice, a much smaller, enclosed run and a house they could be closed up in at night with elevated nesting boxes.
I moved 10 eggs into the incubator Walt had built and Opalyn used successfully in the past. We looked for the injured hen with no success. She was discovered a few days later and was captured. She had a deep open wound on her back and had gone days without food so we doubted her survival. She was set up in a private pen in chickplex with the Silkies.
I began their project in earnest. Walt brought me some 4"x4"x12' posts for an outer wall. I dug two foot deep holes for the posts. I modeled the wall design after the wall that Andrew had built between the chicken and rabbit spaces.
I started working on the door after finishing the wall. I wanted it to be sturdy yet easy to open and close with strong hinges and a latch. I also had to keep the contour of the roof hoops in mind.
One of the last things needed before applying finish to the wood was to attach chicken wire to the top of the wall. There was also a small unfilled hole between the cement base and the shipping container needing to be patched with a small section of plywood.
I then started on the nesting boxes. During this time, the injured chicken, which we named Athena, was making a slow but steady recovery. She started eating and moving around more and was becoming used to being picked up and handled as we checked her wound every few days.
It was heinous but dry and scabbed. We even use wound healing salve on her a few times. When she started laying eggs again we knew she was getting better. She went back to the flock while they were still in vermidice. Also Walt and Opalyn purchased a half dozen small chicks (3 Buffs and 3 Rhodies hens) which brought the brooder into use.
I finished the nesting boxes in one day. I moved them up close to the chicken coop and painted them.
I mounted them on the south wall about 18 inches from the ground and used some support brackets. It is suggested to have one box for every 2
to 4 hens so three boxes seemed to be enough for our seven remaining hens.
We moved the chickens back to their upgraded home a day later. This was a great day!
I just had to make sure the door was closed every night. The first night was difficult. All the chickens were roosting in the rabbit room where they used to sleep. I had to move them all into their own space one by one and close the door between the rooms. The next night they were all roosting on the sawhorse, as intended.
They learned quickly. Also, I began to close off access to the rabbit area around 5 pm. The hens loved the nesting boxes. While in vermidice, they got in the habit of using the boxes there. No more eggs on the ground.
A Rhode Island Red hen finishing up her laying for the day. The white eggs are fake!
There is room along the wall for more boxes when the chicks get old enough to lay. The chickens can access the rabbit area during the day, where they can feed and scratch.
Everything was going very nicely for about two weeks. Monday April 28 was an exciting day because the first of the eggs in the incubator were hatching.
(left)Griffin and Goldie scratching for their food in the rabbit house. (right) Bedtime for the chickens on the saw horse. Athena is the small Buff Orpington between her sisters, Goldie and Sunny.
I decided to start another batch of eggs and I specifically wanted one of Athena's eggs to hatch and I got one that morning. Things started getting behind at work party and I was working on moving the larger brooder that Opalyn built into vermidice and getting it set up for the older chicks so the new chicks could move to the small brooder.
I was working on it late and had a mind to skip group night, but needed a shower so I went anyway. Lindsay beat me to the shower before the movie so I had to wait. While the movie was playing I kept looking at the windows as it got dark. I hadn't closed the chicken door before coming to the landing.
The movie ran long and after a quick shower I hurried up the hill to close the chicken door. It was probably between 9 and 9:30. I entered the rabbit room to see feathers everywhere and my stomach sank when I realized we'd had another attack. At first there were only two chickens on the saw horse.
I searched and found the rest of the alive chickens, including Griffin. The attacker had gotten two more of our hens, one being Athena. Guilt weighed heavily on me, since I had failed to close the door before dark.
The next morning Chelsea and Claire did some forensic investigation. The attacker had left tracks and had broken in along the Northeast corner of the fence. Chelsea determined that the attacker was a dog by the paw prints.
We talked about setting up a motion detecting camera over the next few days. Wildlife biologists use them and Chelsea had used them in one of her classes at Evergreen. I wanted to work on the fence weakness.-I dug a trench in that area between the tree and post. Because of roots, I could only dig down 5-7 inches.
Trench repair before and after.
I put up 4 ft chicken wire and buried it in the trench. There were some u-shaped rebar pins in the ground that I wired the fence to before putting in a layer of gravel, bricks, dirt and more gravel. Not pretty, but almost impossible to get under it.
There are still other sections of the fence line that need work but that would have to wait another day.
Meanwhile, our hens are down to five. The chickens didn't want to be in their room the first night after the attack but they did calm down when they realized the door was closed. I finished the improvements to the fence line Saturday May 4.
Another day during this week there had also been an attack at Claire's new bunny enclosure. There were two bunnies that had gotten out and one was killed another wounded.
Sunday morning May 5, I was weeding in the garden and I heard some squawking at the chicken coop. Part of me thought it was just the rooster breeding but I decided to stop by and check before heading to lunch. I walked in to more feathers and no chickens!
I then found Griffin with most of his tail feathers missing. I went to the kitchen and Chelsea and Lindsay immediately came out with me. Lindsay saw that it was a black dog half way down the hill on the way to the mailbox.
It ran away and we tried to follow it. When we got to the road we planned to spit up but I worried that the dog might come back for Griffin or the bunnies. Chelsea returned to close the door and while she was closing it, the dog indeed returned and she got a good look at him.
Ariel (left), first born on the morning of May 2. Babel (right), posing nicely for me.
Lindsay talked to a few neighbors and I walked down Wahkiacus Heights Road looking for evidence or the dog. The dog found another weak spot in the fence, this time on the south side and decided to attack during the day since he couldn't get at the chickens at night.
Later we found a Rhodie hen alive in the rafters of the rabbit cages along the shipping box. The dog returned several times that day and Chelsea was able to get good pictures and video of it. We have not been able to determine ownership of the dog after speaking with neighbors. We now know that neighbors have also lost chickens. It has not been seen since Sunday.
All the chicks playing together in the large brooder.
The devastation of our chickens has been somewhat tempered by the appearance of adorable, striped peepers. The first batch of ten eggs yielded only three chicks. I started naming them gender neutral names and going through the alphabet.
The second batch of nine eggs had seven hatch to give us ten new chicks! I let them out to play when the weather is warm and sunny. Yesterday morning I discovered that the light bulb in the brooder had burned out and the backup light wasn't enough.
One chick was dead and another was lying there but still alive. I carried it around in my shirt for about an hour and it recovered nicely. I put one of our heavy duty heating pads from seedling nursery under the brooder and now there are three sources of heat.
In the chicken coop, it occurred to me that the saw horse roost was not sufficient, so I mounted a branch about 6 feet from the ground. It's good enough for the remaining couple but will need more support when the other chickens start using it. I may decide to mount another branch in the future.
Until we resolve the dog issue the chickens are inside even during the day. I let them out for about an hour in the afternoon but don't leave the area. The Silkies and chicks are in vermidice. I did some repairs on the doors to make them more secure. There are two more batches of eggs in the incubator.